Applying the Communicative Approach to TESOL Classrooms
The communicative approach is a style of teaching language that focuses on interaction as the ultimate goal of study and also the means with which it is carried out (Mitchell, 1994; Richards & Rodgers, 2001). While some call it a teaching method, many argue that it is not a method but a broad approach (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). There are no clearly defined sets of practices that are used in the classroom in this approach, which encourages the students to speak to one another and interact in the language they are learning, overlooking issues such as incorrect grammar or other difficulties (Whong, 2011). While it may seem simplistic, it serves to help learners become much more comfortable interacting in a new language, as opposed to forcing them to study grammar rules and other guidelines before they can actually start to practice their new language (Savignon, 2000).
Because the communicative approach is a very different way of teaching people English and can be used on young children all the way up through adult learners, there are concerns and considerations with it that have to be addressed. The study of the communicative approach as it relates to TESOL is one that is worthy of exploration. This will provide a higher level of insight into whether the communicative approach is one that should be more readily adopted, or whether it does not provide students of ESL what they actually need to know when it comes to ensuring that they can speak the language with others correctly. They must be capable of learning the grammar rules and other guidelines after they have been speaking the language (often incorrectly) with others, which worries some critics of the method (Richards & Rodgers, 2001; Savignon, 2000).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study is to carefully consider the communicative approach, and whether it is a logical choice for the TESOL classroom. Studies have shown that the communicative approach works because it encourages students who are learning English as s second language to interact with one another (Whong, 2011). By interacting with others who are also learning the language, students learn from the mistakes of others and get comfortable speaking in a new language (Whong, 2011). Once the students have achieved some level of linguistic comfort, they are then introduced to the grammar rules, allowing them to adjust the way they speak but helping them to avoid losing the comfort they have already achieved with the language (Mitchell, 1994). In order to determine whether that is an accurate assessment of the issue when it comes to a TESOL classroom, however, more research will be required to study the thoughts and beliefs of those who use this method.
The research questions for this study will focus on teachers in TESOL classrooms who use the communicative approach, as this will allow the researcher to collect their impressions and feelings when it comes to how the approach in question actually works when it comes to the value of student learning. Students will also be questioned, because this will allow the researcher to draw conclusions regarding whether teacher and student perceptions of the quality of the communicative approach is TESOL classrooms match or are similar in nature. The specific research questions are as follows:
Does the communicative approach improve teacher motivation and experience in the ESL classroom?
Does the communicative approach improve learning for ESL students?
When it comes to the TESOL classroom, there are a number of ways in which students can learn. The communicative approach is not a new option, but it is one that has not been seen as frequently because it is less structured (Savignon, 2000). Not every teacher feels comfortable with a lack of structure in his or her classroom, and that can result in TESOL instructors not using all of the options at their disposal (Whong, 2011). In turn, that can lead to students who struggle with what they are supposed to be learning, because they do not have the proper methods to help them succeed in the right way (Mitchell, 1994). As time has moved forward, though, more teachers have adopted the communicative approach with ESL students, because they have found that it provides a high level of both comfort and success for a number of students (Whong, 2011). While not the right choice for everyone, no teaching method is going to be acceptable to every student all the time. The uniqueness of the individual learning experience, however, is brought to light by using the communicative approach (Mitchell, 1994; Richards & Rodgers, 2001).
This uniqueness comes from allowing each and every student to talk to one another, and there are classroom exercises where this interaction is greatly encouraged (Savignon, 2000). The more a student learns about speaking to others in a second language such as English, the more the student is able to convey meaning and provide information to others in that language. Even if the grammar is not always correct in the beginning, the goal is to get the student using the language frequently so he or she develops some fluency with it and is comfortable using it with and around others (Mitchell, 1994). Many students do not progress quickly in ESL classes or they do not continue to maintain a high level of English fluency, because they do not use the language with others on a daily basis (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). That can mean a great deal of wasted effort that has gone into teaching them, and can lead to frustration for teachers and students (Savignon, 2000).
Teachers of ESL who use the communicative approach, however, are believed to have more success with their students because those students are able to actually speak in the language they are trying to learn. It is a form of immersion, which has been shown to work very well when a person is attempting to learn a new language (Whong, 2011). Much like immersion, students in communicative approach classrooms are asked to speak in English as much as possible, and often must interact with others using only English if they wish to ask for something (Mitchell, 1994). Of course they are spoken to in both languages by the teacher and taught words and phrases, but what they do not do is spend countless hours and days memorizing sentence structure and grammatical rules (Whong, 2011). Anyone who has learned English as a second language can generally point out that English can be a difficult language to learn, even with the best of teachers.
There are many slang words and phrases, and often a word is spelled the same way but pronounced differently, depending on the context of the sentence (Whong, 2011). Additionally, words that are pronounced the same are not used the same way, because they have different meanings (whether and weather, for example). This can lead to a high level of confusion for those who are attempting to learn English, and when they are subjected to nothing but rules and more rules before they can really start to learn the actual speech patterns and words, it can quickly become overwhelming and demoralizing (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). With that in mind, the communicative approach is able to reduce the level of this for many students and allow them to learn English in a more free-form way where they pick up information from others who are also learning (Whong, 2011).
To be truly fluent in the English language, one must master the rules of grammar, sentence structure, and other issues. However, there is no proof that doing so first is the only way to teach ESL learners properly. For TESOL instructors, the goal is to make sure the students leave with the command of the English language they were promised when they entered the classroom (Mitchell, 1994). That is true for young children who are learning English in school, and for adult learners who would like to speak and understand English better (or at all) (Savignon, 2000). The way in which the teacher arrives at providing that value to the students is something that is up for debate, as there are many different ways a person can be taught something. Not every person handles issues the same way, and not every person learns the same way or at the same speed. What "clicks" with one person when it comes to learning English may fall flat with another person. However, studies into the communicative approach have shown that interaction with others who are also learning the language is a successful way to teach students of all ages (Richards & Rodgers, 2001; Whong, 2011).
Overall, success in the ESL classroom depends on a number of factors, including the quality of the teacher and the desire of the student (Whong, 2011). When learning English is made more enjoyable, however, and when it seems to be easier because interaction with others is possible early on in the…